Another First World War Diary

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Another First World War Diary

APART from the RFC Diaries left by “X”, see page 1863, some letters written to her family by a girl of 18 while she was serving as a driver in the ASC during WWI have been appearing in the magazine of the Royal Corps of Transport, whose Editor has kindly permitted us to publish the following extracts. Incidentally, the daughter of this ASC driver still possesses her mother’s 1917 driving-licence. The girl in question had the delightful name of Miss HayacMth Hunter and she served with a detachment of 606 Company, ASC, whose headquarters were then in Holland Park Avenue. Her duties were driving personnel about the vast Woolwich Royal Arsenal during the latter part of the 1914-18 war, and further afield when required.

In the Summer of 1917 we find Miss Hunter deciding to quit munitions work, fi,r which she had been receiving abuut 29 a week on day work and about 27. a week tor night shifts. Motor dnving was paid 35 a week and Hayacinth, who was living at the Queen Mary’s Hotel in Abbeywood, in SE London, wrote home tor suitable clothes, as uniforms would not he issued fUr a month. Apparently motor drivers were urgently required, as Miss Hunter was able to finish in the machine-shops on a Tuesday and start driving on the Wednesday: but six-months’ driving experience and a licence were needed itti her first day in the Woolwich Arsenal Garage MI. Htmter drove about the place in a Flird, obviously a Model-T, but that August afternoon the Duty Sergeant was at his wit’s-end to find someone to drive an Inspection Department Official to the 3 p.m. Ministry meeting at the War Office in London. So, although her licence had not arrived and she did not know her was about London, after he had given her a five-minutes’ tnal on a Studebaker he sent hcr off. The young lady found the car “completely different from anything she had driven before” but all went well until a tyre punctured in the pouring rain in Kingsway. She squatted down in the mud and put on the spare-rim the Stepney? , nobly assisted by the Messenger she was driving. After much difficulty and hammering they got it on, only to find, on letting down the jack, that this [vie. fix, was punctured. Four or five garages were visited but not one would help. until they found a place that was just shutting, with some soldiers outside. One of the “Tommie, mended the puncture and refused a half-a-crown tip — maybe you would have done the same, for 18-year-old Hyacinth? They got back to Woolwich at 8.30 p.m. instead of at 7 p.m. as scheduled, the girl-driver in a filthy mess. She was supposed toga out again in the Ford but it had broken down and would not be ready until dinner-time, so she wrote home instead.

There is an interesting reference to Mrs. Mossy, who bossed the girls and drove Col. Taylor home; he had told this lady that Miss Hunter could drive a90 h.p car and that he was very keen to get her av his driver. Apparently Miss Hunter had not actually driven such a car, she thought the Colonel was thinking of “lock’s car”, and one wonders what this was and whether lock was a member of the Hunter family. Miss Hunte.r was thoroughly enjoying driving about Woolwich, in spite of “railway trains rushing out at you from all directions”, and although she found keeping reports was a nuisance. she regarded the driving as ‘great

sport”. Shc was “as fit as a fiddle and thoroughly enjoying herself”. But she was bitter about not being able to get a friend a job at Woolwich because she was over 21 and she expressed contempt for the posters he classic Kitchener poster?) that said they were clamouring for recruits, when they were not. She was delighted to be called upon to take out a “Stude” (Studebaker). -When the Fordites who have driven gate changes long before they could even drive a Ford”, were not called upon.

One day consisted of fetching a Col. Galloway from his home, and in the afternoon taking Lady Kathleen Lindsay about the Arsenal, while in the evening there were Majors and a civilian to drive home. Getting lost on the way back. Miss Hunter arrived rather late and was relieved to find that Col. Richard, whom she was supposed to he driving. wasn’t there, especially as the Studebaker’s engine “wouldn’t start again for little apples”. Two boys at the garage got it going by dousing it with petrol. Mi. Hunter expressed a good knowledge of, and appreciation tin, cars when she wrote: “0.84 is a brute to start, 11,86 which 1 took up to London is much better to start but is a brute to change gear on. -Piec all have their little peculiarities. specially my Surd, whose steering and footbrake are positively suicidal”. However, they were expecting new vehicles the next day, these having been rumoured to Inc at HQ at Shepherds Bush — one wonders whether “X” (see page 1863) was associated with them. Probably not, as they were ASC, not RFC, vehicles.

Social engagements were interrupted by a Vehicle Inspection but usually the 2 l-year-old itt was very decent about granting the girls time off. There is an amusing reference about how a young girl-driver coped with nasty passengers — “You can always tell him to sit behind ‘cos it balances the car better and they’ve got to obey”. Apparantly this applied to Officers as well as to civvies. but “we have a verv decent lot to drive about here; they all ‘behave very well. Do send some more lavender next parcel”. The new vehicles had arrived by August 14th. 1917 — “We have got the most luscious new Fords you ever saw in your life, all black and shiny 1917-pattent, with sloping bonnets and black radiators like the Studes: saves us a lot of

cleaning and looks very chic”. Mrs. Moxsy had been on holiday to Scotland and had not slept a wink on the journey hack, presumably on the night train. “so I expect her driving today will be erratic”.

The girl was not afraid to press on. She wrote home of one incident when, with a Lieutenant and a Major in her car. she tried to squeeze between a lorry and a hand-barrow as these were converging, with no time to blow the horn. The coster had the fright of his life and dropped his barrow. When they got to their destination Hyacinth asked the Major -Whose fault w. it? Mine I suppose.” She was obviously disappointed when he replied -Yes, it was yours”! Then there was the occasion when she took a Col. Vandeleur no DI in the Arsenal and he told her tii wait a minute. She waited a minute and as someone had come out and said there was no need to so, any longer. she drove away. Soon there was a frantic telephone message to say the Colonel wanted her. “I waste the middle of making up my reports so I shoved everything under the seat. ground lien up, and broke all records through the Arsenal. He seemed a little hurt I had abandoned him”. Fortunately he knew family friends. so soon reeovered! The joh entailed driving with very conhdential patterns ot gun-hores. etc. from E30 DI, both gun-sheds, but when a Major told Miss Hunter she should be wearing gunner’s buttons on her khaki coat she told him Inc was wrong. as she was in the ASC. “He seemed rather amused, I hunt know why”. . . . Butter sent from her home in Berwickshire was appreciated in the Mess, and when the Sergeant left the girls gave him a silver cigarette-case: the new man was very different”, a regular Sergeant Major with a S. African medal”. The Fords were apt to soot -up the, plugs. which Miss H. could etipe with, but if she W. “carting round a box of pay” she might commandeer any 4,thee car that was passing. The ASC Company was fussy about its drivers. so it was usual to get a unifOrm made by a tailor in Woolwich, keeping the Arrny issue. which was in* “tommie’s stuff’. for driving about the Arsenal. changing Otto the other one for journeys to Town. An awful fuss arose when it was prnposed to make all the girls.. whether ASC. WI_ OF, or RFC. join the WAAC. -We should have to drill and be given CB and all

that sort of thing; in fact we would be treated just like soldiers. We can be pretty insubordinate and the WAAC or ifs w stop all that!” Nevertheless, Hyacinth signed on foes year, or the Duration if that were shorter.

In the end her uniform came through. She went to Devonshire House for it, but was sent to Wigmore Street. She found it “rather short in the skirt-. She hated Selfridges when she went there for shirts, and couldn’t get a taxi v..hen it began to rain and she was laden with parcels.

There was leave spent at Ickleford Manor at Hitchin, then back to the driving. taking two big-wigs down to Proof Butts. meeting Majors who had missed their trams. etc.. so that the “Mode-pop” as they called t.ir new Fords, Thum their strong resemblance to Studebaker,, fairly boiled. ‘Interesting this. although it was not int il the 1920s that most ill the cheaper American tourers looked all alike — Ed.. The -motor-hogs” would have wild panics in the Mess, attended by the Officer (-lie didn’t dance as he had rather a tummy-ache, poor babe” ,. They would make lunch tithe garage instead of going to Lyons and usually drove “pukka Army Officers. all gunners”. The girls were known by their surnames and seem to have been on duty from 6.30 a. m. to 7 p.m. On a day off Miss H. would perhaps go up to Town. On one such ocsaston she was let off driving a Major Burden to the this thfice and lust

caught a train in time to get there to watch a performance of “General Post” at the Haymarket, from the dress-circle, with her boy-friend, whose uniform made him look like a half-fledged Officer, and girl-friends. ‘They would lunch at the Charing Cross Hotel, take tea at Stewart’s, walk in the Park, and dine at Prince’s where them was a mixture of evening dresses, and uniforms — I seem to have heard it before! When driving a Major Cluiterbuck she hit a bicycle hut the man who landed on the step of the car wasn’t hurt and the Minor was he the person who had driven a Fiat at Brooklands in 1908. in the Household Brigade Cup Handicap?, said it wasn’t her huh. so she did not report it. hoping the man had not taken her number. There was a great tuss getting a girl’s buttons polished and her car sntart when she had to take a Col. Galloway to Buckingham Palace to receive his CMG “arid on the Wu,. had a puncture. and got dirty again”. Miss H. wrote of a race between three Fords, driven by herself and two male drivers, to the petrol-store and back (a sari of I.c Mans start, as they were cranked up first, which amused an old Admiral but not “Staffwho had obserycd it and said “I suppose you were doing 5i, round the corner?” Her white toe gloves caused o sensation in the cold winter of 1917. Taking a Mums Bishop of the Marine Artillery to I loltiorii she skidded right round in avoiding cart (outside the Herbert llosintal “l’eetiott.iicli ltcdoesn’t

suffer from nerves”). The run back was done in 40 minutes from Waterloo Bridge, on a solitary oil-lamp. “as the headlamps had shorted-out as usual and the other oil-lamp had no paraffin in it A nice tram-inspector lit the oil-lamp-. Miss H. was detailed for a Studebaker in October 1917, “an antiquated ‘bus, painted khaki all over. even its shiny parts”. But it “turned out to be a perfect lamb”. It was used quite soon for a run to Dagenham, through Barking. East Ham, and acrtiss he Ferry. and then is a 6 p.m. Ministry meeting.

There were cheery Sundays with the CO (Major Alcoa, and Mr. Napier sitting in, and “Consequences” played at the digs “with Mrs. Moxsy acting as censor-. In November the Studebaker did about 90 miles in (MC daV.S driving, including right out to Acton. about 20 miles from Woolwich, which was done in an hour, through the Ind,. . It then .nt to Dartford, where a Major detused some bombs dropped in the night. Miss 11.’s red boots were much admired by the Major . . Alas. her .r was now literally coming to pieces, in various people’s hands. It went to IN HP be overhauled and -so they’ve sent me a Ford. I must say it’s brand-new. just out of the shop, but a Ford!” My thanks go to the Editor of the

magazine for this charming -period-piece”. One wonders what kind of motoring Hyacinth Hunter enjoyed after the war was over? — W.H. V-E-V Miscellany.— Are prices asked lOr the older cars about to fall? At Sotheby’s Ardingly “Ilistoric Transport Spectacular”. out of 75 vehicles auctioned. 25 were withdrawn as not reaching their reserve prices, while at Sotheby’s “Town & County Festival” Sale there were 77 Lots, out of which five were withdrawn and 33 were unsold. . . . In connection with my last August article “A Coatalen Conundrum”, Australia’s George Brooks has sent as a colour transparency of a or which came 14) a rally at Victoria in 1955, and which had one of the rare single-overhead-camshaft. sixteen-valve OV Sunbeam engines. It was obviously in a 10.40 Sunbeam tourer, so was the 3-litre four -cylinder version of the substitute for that car’s normal side-valve power unit. With the one I saw before the war in the Lambert Special. that makes at least two of these 3-litre (IV Sunbeam engines to escape from the Wolverhampton factory. H. W. Tucker-Peaks is planning to have a Vintage and Veteran section in the 1.1 WA: Land’s End Trial, as part of the celebrations to mark the 80th Anniversary of the Motor Cycling Club. rather as they did tor the 50th Anniversary. It IS envisaged that there may . observed climbs of hills like Porlock. Barton Steep. Beggars Roost, Ruses Mill and the original Bluehills Mine, which were respected gradients in vintage times. The idea would he tu use a shorter. route hir the old cars, but running to the standard times at Observed Controls. The dreaded ROOSt could he compulsory or opt iiirtal , depending on its condition and the type 01 cars entered. We look forward to hearing that this proposal is going ahead and hope the RAC Competitions Ti ‘tin .7 ‘2 srtilinigwiSnu-ntrcnrs ItVitte”irilne”rilvlitillt after the failure in 1926 of she single a much more professional layout. . it seems one of these engines had been rebuilt post-war for Department will look kindly at it. headed this section in the October issue. It shows Sit Ralph Millais or as it was quickly cobbled-up likely that our photograph was taken either afier Roger Howard tells us that he has found a later

supercharger, and Roger’s picture may be as revised when Reid Railton rebuilt the cars for Sir Malcolm Campbell. Again, a case of over ICS the Midlands Motor Museum, to look at the ex-Neil Corner Sunbeam. . . . Incidentally, Roger is anxious to trace the history of his Type 37A Bugatti. Its Reg. No. is HGT-874 but it is thought to have carried BPE-660 before the war; does anyone remember it? When writing, the Bugatti had just completed 1,200 miles in ten days, including five on the Isle of Skye: as Roger says, the ideal touring car? A reader has sent up some photographs of early cars in Scotland. One is thought to have ht..en the first in Sutherland and Caithness and looks like a Peugeot. Its Reg. No. is NS-10 and in another photograph this number is seen to beet, what may be an Alldays. Another picture is of three cars outside a house that is still in existence in Scotland. Indeed, the reader, Arnold Toyn.e. photograph. his Ferrari outside it. alongside the present owner’s BMW. In the old picture Iwo 8 h.p. Rovers, circa 1904, which are said to have indulged in a race from Tongue to Thurso, are seen with the aWresaid Alldays, the latter on solid tyres and chain-driven. N. Lees asks us to point out that we were incorrect in our report of the

VSCC Donington Meeting in saying that his Riley Snipe had met with an accident at Cadwell Park. Our apologies! Agreeing with Mr. N. B. Towler’s letter in the September issue about vehicles lasting a long time in Middle Eastern Countries, another correspondent has sent us photographs (nos suitable for reproduction) of what he thinks way’ be the remains of the trucks used by General Sb John Gibbs when he was an RAF Intelligence Officer in Iraq and described in Isis book “War In The Desert”. These are at the vehicle-littered interior of Gurayat Fort and the cycle-type mudguards suggest that they may be Model-A Fords, one left-hand-drive, the other right-hand-drive. Can anyone confirm this? A caption to a copy of one of the paintings of MG cars commissioned by the Collectors Library of Fine Arts says that George Eyston was Cecil Kimber’s passenger in MG “Old No. 1″ during the 1925 MCC Land’s End Trial, which is new to us. A reader is seeking to discover what kind ot’ British Salmson he has dis.vered, before making it into a Special when perhaps it should be restored to original order, it is a puzzle to the British Salmson Register. The wheelbase is 8’4″ instead of the usual 92 W., and one of the radiator shells that came with the car, which was dismantled, is 4” lower than standard and has radiator-shutters. The car has a chassis plate for a Type AZ and the chassis and engine nos. are 108. Letters can be forwarded. — W.B.